Some of the first drones with advanced facial recognition capabilities are being developed by Israeli surveillance companies, as American police consider whether they will soon be adding the controversial technology to their unmanned flying machines.
As a sign of the imminent arrival of biometric identification from the air, an Israeli startup, one previously-funded by Microsoft, has patented technologies for drone-based facial recognition. A patent application, published earlier this month, was filed by Tel Aviv-based AnyVision back in August 2019 in the U.S., detailing tech to help a drone find the best angles for a facial recognition shot, before trying to find a match for the target by referring to faces stored in a database. It was titled, “Adaptive positioning of drones for enhanced facial recognition,” and filed by current and former AnyVision employees, including three from Belfast, U.K.
The patent aims to iron out some of the complexities of identifying faces from a flying machine. Various obvious issues arise when trying to recognize someone from a drone: acquiring an angle at which a face can be properly captured and being able to get good-quality visuals whilst moving or hovering. Both are considerably harder than getting a match from static footage.
U.S. military agencies have been trying to come up with solutions, including the Advanced Tactical Facial Recognition at a Distance Technology project at U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) and the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) Biometric Recognition and Identification at Altitude and Range initiative.
But private industry may get there first. This December, it was revealed AnyVision executives had partnered with Israeli defense supplier Rafael for a new joint venture called SightX. In demos provided to Israeli media in late 2020, SightX’s small drones didn’t have any facial recognition capabilities, though executives said that feature was coming soon. It’s unclear if the tech is for the military only or if it will be sold to police agencies. Neither SightX nor Rafael responded to requests for comment.